The Art of Living

What is happiness? One might say the touch of a snowflake upon the tip of a nose, another might tender the heat of the Mediterranean sun. When it comes down to it, happiness is simply the occurrence of a wanted thing happening or an unwanted thing not. Happiness is simply life, meeting or exceeding our expectations.

So what is unhappiness? It is happiness, in reverse. When something wanted does not happen, or something unwanted does, we shake our fists up at the sky and demand to know of life, Why? Why have you forsaken me? Why is this fair, what have I done to deserve this? And then you wait, may be waiting for a very long time because rarely does life ever answer you back, especially when you speak to her in that tone of voice.

But this apparent unfairness does beg the question: why do bad things happen to good people, and good things get allocated to those who are bad? Who stood at the grand court of life and decided that this was okay, that life could and would operate in this way? I mean, what an asshole, it ruined the game for the rest of us.

Then again, upon closer inspection don’t bad things happen to bad people also? Don’t the good ones recognize some truly wonderful moments in their lives as well? In this stream of logic it suddenly becomes clearer that within every person’s life – of all those here and now, from the past, and to those in the future – there exists the same exact pattern. To live is to experience the life’s ups and downs; no one is immune. Even a saint will have their bad days, even a killer will have their good.

Try as we might, we have no control. You can buy all the insurances in the world, build up walls and fortresses around your home and your heart, act in a way that is acceptable according to the scriptures of your God yet still, misery and heartache will manage to slip through. Ah! you may think, I get it, I know. It is other people that’s the root of the problem, because try as I might I cannot control the actions of others. It is they who are the cause of unhappiness, therefore I must fortify myself against them. 

So you manage to shut yourself off, maintain no foreseeable contact with the outside world, and live in contentment as a hermit deep in the backwoods of some idyllic mountains. But be warned – like a female lead in a horror movie running inside thinking she’s safe, only to discover she has actually enclosed her attacker inside with her – though the world may have fallen away through your Herculean efforts, you may be distraught to find out that hell is not other people, it is within yourself.

Right now you may believe that your misery is caused 100% by outside factors – This person said this to me, that person did that to me; this is why I am unhappy. What we don’t realize in these assessments is how our own biases run deep. We attribute mistakes in other people to an indication of their character (disorganized, irresponsible, unintelligent etc.), while mistakes on our own part are always the result of external factors (I was tired, the weather was bad, too many people wanting my attention etc.).

We are never in the wrong so we expend all of our energy trying to right the wrongs done to us. It is a hamster wheel undertaking – the faster we run, the quicker we get nowhere, fast. Yet herein lies the problem again – you cannot change others. Even if you manage to change one, another will raise their head and challenge you, over and over, so on and so forth.

So what does this mean? Must we live forever in this common misery in perpetuity? The answer is no, and it will become clearer and clearer when you take the first step to get down to the truth of the matter. This first step requires for you to go inside, to explore the truth from within. From the moment we are born we become indoctrinated to outside stimuli, to be aware of our surroundings and to react to them accordingly. It is a very novel idea for so many of us to even consider turning that awareness – which we have fine-tuned for all our lives – from outwards in, towards our very own selves. To take a look at the truth which we have been harboring inside, to understand who we are and by consequence, how we operate.

The truth is, 100% of our misery is generated from the inside. Nothing in the external world, no circumstance no matter how grave or mundane, can cause us to be unhappy. We are the sole cause of our own misery, but this also means that we hold the sole capacity to decrease or to eliminate it entirely. The responsibility for how we feel rests with us, and when this truth becomes clear then nothing – no person, event, or situation – could derail us from the true peace and happiness that we are meant to feel, made to feel.

Good things happen to good people, bad things also happen to good people. The circumstances in life will always come with its ups and downs, there’s no hiding from this fact. Forget the heaven and hell of the afterlife, both are here with us, right here right now. It is not that which occurs which ultimately decides our fate, it is us and our reaction to the situation that we face which determines it. But how to recognize this? What tools do we have at our disposal that can remove the wool from our eyes and reveal the ultimate truth, that heaven and hell come from within?

To know the truth within us, we have to travel there ourselves. Know thyself, said the ancient Greek philosophers, and knowing yourself is exactly what you ultimately will discover. No one can do this job for you, but you. It is an inward journey, but by looking in places where you have never thought to look, you will discover the answers towards outward questions which may have eluded you before. Meditation is the great tool in this, and the techniques taught and used will help guide you inside – for many it will be for the first time in their entire lives – and once you know how to observe yourself from this perspective then the changes can begin. And changes will occur, in this lifetime, in these very moments – because once the truth is realized positive impacts can’t help but immediately start to make their presence known.

It may not make sense right now; it doesn’t have to. The truth can only be understood when it is experienced by oneself – merely hearing about it, or reading about it, will not make it a truth for you. Only by your own experience, by your own efforts of turning inside and exploring what is within can this become a truth for you. No one else can do it for you but you. And you do not have to do it alone, without guidance or a clue. If you are ready to take responsibility, to turn the tables on a world where Why me? becomes Why not me? I know that this is just the natural cycle of life, but I also know that I have the tools and the capacity to handle it, no matter what it is, then seek out meditation.

Guide yourself to the temple within, and start worshiping at the altar of your own abilities. Happiness, a life free from miseries, it is all within your reach. Reach out and take the opportunity, make the best life out of this amazing opportunity – we only have one chance to do it.

Author’s Note: If you are interested in learning more about meditation, or are seeking a way to integrate it into your life, I recommend looking into Vipassana. There are courses held in centers all over the world for those who wish to learn, which are ten-days silent retreats held year round. There is no cost to attend a course, and all of your basic amenities (food and board) are included by the centers. I came across Vipassana when a friend who finished a course told me about his experience, and recommended that I try it. I had never encountered meditation before, and was hesitant to go at first (who has ten days lying around to spare?!) but after life aligned to allow me to attend it really changed everything for me, and I am so blessed and grateful to have had that opportunity. So now I am sharing that knowledge with all of you, may you find the fruits of dhamma and let it guide you to a peaceful and happy life. If anyone has also done Vipassana before I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Sorry for the late post this week, I fell behind on my own deadlines, but I will be back next week same time on Wednesday. Happy weekend y’all, may you all, dear readers, be happy!  

 

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